Nate Ryan

Drivers criticize Next Gen for lack of durability, passing in its debut on Bristol concrete

1 Comment

BRISTOL, Tennessee – The Next Gen car endured a durability nightmare in its debut on the punishing concrete at Bristol Motor Speedway with power steering failures, blown tires and mechanical gremlins.

On top of all that, passing also was difficult for 500 laps Saturday night on the high-banked 0.533-mile oval.

There were 12 lead changes (only four under green), the fewest in more than 13 years at Bristol, as a lack of tire wear made it easier for the leader to control the race. Race winner Chris Buescher led the final 61 laps after a two-tire stop, and the Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing driver maintained a steady gap over runner-up Chase Elliott (who took four tires on his final stop).

“Just went from having a chance to lead the parade to being a part of the parade,” 10th-place finisher Kevin Harvick told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch. “Just difficult to pass. The car is way too fast through the corners. Can’t race.”

The dearth of passing coupled with the reliability problems drew a new round of complaints about the car, which has weathered increasing criticism in recent weeks for its heavy impacts and faulty components. The Next Gen marks the first time in NASCAR’s 74-year history that the premier Cup Series has used a “spec” model in which virtually all of the parts and chassis are built and supplied by single-source vendors to the entire field.

Denny Hamlin tweeted afterward that “We need NextGen 2.0. Just gotta figure out who’s gonna pay for it.”

“Passing was just impossible,” Hamlin told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns. “It was just a type of day where you needed to stay up front at all costs and we just couldn’t quite do it and ended up having a blown tire that set us back and we were trying to play catch up from that point.

“(The Next Gen) was tough. I would like to see the racing improve overall. Some lap time variation a little bit. We’re just running around there and it’s like we’re running faster in the corners than we are on the straightaways. Just extremely hard to pass. We had some steering issues, and it looks like our Toyota teammates also had steering issues.”

All six Toyotas in the field experienced problems whether tires (Hamlin, Christopher Bell), steering (Martin Truex Jr., Bubba Wallace, Ty Gibbs) or engine (Kyle Busch), and there were a rash of tire problems throughout the field.

After running (and winning) the first stage of 125 laps without changing tires, Brad Keselowski mysteriously had a tire go flat while leading with 87 laps remaining. But the winning team owner defended the Next Gen’s passing capability while conceding it still needed improvement.

“I restarted third (with 140) to go and was able to pass the front two cars for the lead,” Keselowski said. “I feel like yes, I could pass. It wasn’t easy, but it’s not supposed to be easy. Would I like to see us continue to work on the cars? Absolutely. I’ve said this to NASCAR and I’ve said it to the media before and I’ll say it again: If the Next-Gen car looks the same as it does this year, then we’ve failed. We should continue to grow. We should continue to learn. We should continue to make it better.

“There’s probably some car owners that don’t want to hear it because it costs money to change the cars, but like anything, when you create something new like the Next Gen car, there’s going to be things that are optimized, and there’s going to be things that aren’t. I think there’s opportunities to continue to make this car better and the racing better with it. I think it’s still a step forward from where we were in a lot of ways. I think we’ve seen some great racing because of that great parity. There’s a lot of big positives. Like any industry we probably get caught up in the negatives more than the positives, but I feel like there’s two camps.

“There’s the everything is wrong with this car camp and there’s the nothing is wrong with this car camp, and I’m trying to say, Nah, it’s a pretty big step forward for our sport, actually pretty good, but I’d like to keep working on it. It seems like much like many things today, that polarization means there’s no room for middle ground. In my eyes I’d like to see some small tweaks, but I’m thankful and proud of our sport and where the Next Gen car has taken us so far.”

The chorus of detractors has grown louder in recent weeks.

Harvick has been outspoken with concerns about safety and the fire that engulfed his No. 4 Ford in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver called out Next Gen suppliers for shoddy parts, and Martin Truex Jr. echoed Harvick’s disapproval after finishing last Saturday night because of a steering problem in his No. 19 Toyota.

“It blew the seal out and pushed all the (power steering) fluid out on the right-front tire,” Truex told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “Just unbelievable. What did Harvick say? Crappy parts. … You literally can’t drive the car here without power steering. You lose it, you’re done.”

Bristol was the latest in a string of short-track disappointments this season for the Next Gen.

After a lackluster debut for Next Gen at Martinsville Speedway, NASCAR has been testing tweaks to the car for the Oct. 30 race that will set the championship field for the finale at Phoenix Raceway.

Asked whether he would point NASCAR toward working on aerodynamics or tires for Martinsville, Keselowski said, “I probably don’t have a perfect answer at the moment for that. I know we won’t get there unless we try. I think there’s some effort being put into those things. I couldn’t specify what they are. Certainly we have some room to continue to grow and be better.”

What drivers said at Bristol cutoff race

0 Comments

What drivers said after Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series first-round cutoff race at Bristol Motor Speedway, where Chris Buescher became the third consecutive non-playoff driver to win in the first three races of the 2022 playoffs:

Chris Buescher — Finished first: “This is so special, this team did such a great job. Love this racetrack, love the fans. Love every time we come here. It’s so special to me. We had a really fast Fastenal Mustang. Just so proud of everybody. We knew we had a good race car after practice and didn’t quite get the job done in qualifying, but what a race car. It’s just special. Get RFK in Victory Lane for the first time, and we had great race cars. Brad had really good speed, too. I don’t know what else to say right now. I’m out of breath. This place will wear you flat out, and I love that about it, but such a special night.”

Chase Elliott — Finished second: “I actually really liked my car. I thought our Chevrolet was driving really good, and honestly, I don’t think I could realistically ask for anything more balance-wise. I just needed to be able to do a better job getting in some different lanes. And then being second there, the top had gotten so dominant there at the end. The bottom was pretty good there early in the night, and you could run down there for a long time, and then as the night went on the top got better and better and better, and that momentum was hard to beat. Unfortunately for me, we never got to any lapped traffic to make him move, but we were starting to there in those last three or four laps. I felt like we were gaining, but I wasn’t close enough to do anything with him. But I appreciate the effort. We had a long day yesterday. Was able to battle back from a bad qualifying effort to get a top 2, so proud of that. Glad to be moving on, and looking forward to some more opportunities here these coming weeks.”

William Byron — Finished third: “Honestly, with this Next Gen car, the pace is so fast around here and I didn’t really have a chance to see what was going on around me. I would see guys up in the wall, having flat tire issues or blowing up, so I just tried to avoid it. Our team did a great job tonight. We were a little bit timid early and didn’t really quite have the car in stage one. We wanted to get those points so we could advance. And then they told me after stage one that we were locked in. We were a little bit freer after that. We really didn’t change much, but we got the car better and had a good second and final stage. I’m really proud of this team. This whole round, we’ve been getting better each race. Just really proud of the effort. After a rough summer, this is really good to see how we brought ourselves to the playoffs. Thank you to all of our partners and supporters back home. We’re really excited.”

Christopher Bell — Finished fourth: “It’s terribly disappointing. That’s two weeks in a row we have had speed, and the car underneath me to win the race and haven’t done it. Extremely proud of this 20 group. They keep bringing Camrys that are incredible to the racetrack. It makes me really excited about where we are going, especially Texas, which is one of my best race tracks. I’m proud of everyone on this group. Hopefully, we can carry this momentum. Looking at the next seven races, I would say Texas is arguably the most important race, outside of Phoenix. Talladega, we all know how that is – there is going to be some lucky guys, and some unlucky guys. Texas is kind of the one place where you can control your destiny into the next round and the winner is going to feel really good if it is a playoff car.”

Ross Chastain — Finished sixth: “I’m proud of the effort from Trackhouse Racing, the No. 1 Worldwide Express team and Chevrolet to minimize things that take you out of the race. The minimal amount of flat tires. None for Trackhouse. That’s what we need; we needed extra air in the tires and extra clearance off the ground. We struggled just being tight all night. We put a couple rounds in the right-rear there at the end and drove up to sixth. We were up there where we needed to be all night. … To be honest, I’ve only had Homestead on my mind next for the test this week. We have a lot of questions to answer there. Good, bad or indifferent – Wednesday night, we’re going to know a whole lot more and that’s what tests are for. We’re taking a lot of spare parts. I need to work on running up top more, running the wall. That’s a big thing we’re going to focus on.”

AJ Allmendinger — Finished seventh: “I’m happy to run 500 laps at Bristol anytime I can do that. That’s a good night. I was pretty happy with our Camaro ZL1. We just needed a little bit more I think to get to the next level, but really happy when we can run anywhere from about seventh to 10th all night. We had good strategy, and our pit stops were really good. So overall, I’m just really, really happy with the night.”

Cole Custer — Finished eighth: “We had a really solid day. The guys brought a really fast car the whole weekend from when we just unloaded. It was a lot of fun to drive, so we had a solid day.  We executed well and stayed out of trouble and was able to end up with a top 10.  Hopefully, we can carry that momentum to next week.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished ninth: “Had good track position from our qualifying effort but passing was just impossible. It was just a type of day where you needed to stay up front at all costs and we just couldn’t quite do it and ended up having a blown tire that set us back and we were trying to play catch up from that point. (The Next Gen car) was tough. I would like to see the racing improve overall. Some lap time variation a little bit. We’re just running around there and it’s like we’re running faster in the corners than we are on the straightaways. Just extremely hard to pass. We had some steering issues, and it looks like our Toyota teammates also had steering issues. We just battled through it and held on to a ninth place today. … We can win anywhere we go to. We’ll go to Texas and try to win like we always do. Just need to get a good, solid round going. Just seems like mechanical stuff with this Next Gen and wrecks are the X-factor in moving on so you just have to be really consistent and with five races to go, that’s when you have to start winning.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 10th: “It was pretty tough (on the last pit stop). We pitted in front of (Buescher), so just kind of the way the year has gone. Just went from having a chance to lead the parade to being a part of the parade. Just difficult to pass. The car is way too fast through the corners. Can’t race.”

Justin Haley — Finished 12th: “That’s a really strong night. We fought hard all night, played some excellent strategy and just had an overall good car. That was a good, good run for the company. We are definitely building something. We will take this and keep improving.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 13th: “There are 40-some of the best cars that nobody is going to give you anything.  You scratch and claw for every little bit every day and every hour and, if you’re lucky and you don’t wreck, you don’t blow up, you don’t have a problem and you finish 10th to 15th, and if you’re lucky and you’re damn good, you win.  If you’re damn good and you’re not lucky, you still finish 20th or worse, so we had two cars that were really good today and one that was unlucky and one that executed and everything came the right way for them. … Oh yeah, I’m proud as hell (as a team owner).  Everybody has some level of ego and I’m not going to say I don’t have any ego, but it’s easy to get over ego when you see that.”

Chase Briscoe — Finished 14th: “I was kind of worried pretty early in the race that I was going to struggle and was able to get fourth in that first stage, third in the second stage and really set us up to where I think we were right at the cut line starting that final stage.  We had some luck with the 18 blowing up and a couple guys getting wrecked and there at the end it was unfortunate, we kind of just rode around making sure we didn’t eliminate ourselves, so I’m super proud to be able to move onto the Round of 12.  That’s a really big accomplishment.  We’ve just got to do what we did today, not eliminate ourselves.  That’s going to be the key to this next round, especially with how many wild card races there are, so if we can go there and do that, guys are going to keep eliminating themselves.  We just have to limit our mistakes and if we do that, we know we’ve got to have a little more speed, but if we can just limit our mistakes it gives us a chance to move on in the next round as well. … I didn’t have (power steering) the whole race.  My arms are smoked.  That was not the most fun.  It was ripping the wheel out of my hands every time I ran the bottom and up at the top it was a little bit easier, so I kind of had to run the top no matter what just to try to last, but luckily there wasn’t a ton of long, long runs.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 19th: “It was a long day. It wasn’t pretty, but we did what we needed to do. We thought we were going to be able to make our car better from yesterday to today, but it was not. We have to regroup. Hopefully, we can find some answers and come back stronger. I think the next round is pretty good for us. Texas, we’re going to be strong. A road course is in our wheelhouse. A superspeedway, anything can happen. I’m very thankful for our team. They never give up. The car wasn’t what we needed, but we’re still on the good side of it. You have no idea how easy it’s going to be for me to reset (for the second round) because that car was not fun. For me, to be able to make it to the next round with the way the car was driving, is a huge plus. Thank you to everyone on our team. They did a very good job. We had the speed, but there were a lot of mistakes; on pit road, myself, overall. We’ll come back stronger for the next round.”

Austin Cindric — Finished 20th: “For a while I was just trying as hard as I can and as they fell off like flies just trying not to force any issues, try not to force any more right-front tire failures.  From there, I think I was tied with the 18 for 100 laps, but just one hell of a night.  I still don’t think this place loves me back, but it probably showed me a little mercy tonight, so I’ll take it and run with it.  We’ll be on offense for the next three races just like we were to start Darlington this round and have some fun with it. … Yeah, there’s a part of me that wants to go, ‘Man, that’s kind of b.s. I blew a tire and didn’t get a caution,’ but I would also think that NASCAR probably recognized there might be some issues with tires and probably understand that, ‘OK, it’s not just a one-time deal.’  Mine was the first to go. I’m happier about it because I made it in. I’d be less happy about it if I didn’t make it in, but certainly there’s something to be said about coming to a very important race in the year with a new tire, but it’s not my decision to make and just understand how we can make that better on our side.”

Erik Jones — Finished 21st: “We knew this week may be a test with the new car at Bristol and it proved to have its challenges tonight. We struggled with the handling early in the race and were making the right changes, but spun missing a wreck and that put us a few laps down and then had a couple of tire issues late in the race. A disappointing night for sure. We have seven more races to build for next year and I know we are capable of running up front and winning races, just need to turn things around. We’ll had to Texas next week, one of my favorite tracks, and see what we can do.”

Tyler Reddick — Finished 25th: “Frustrating for sure. We didn’t quite have the pace or the balance really to make our car better, and unfortunately, the balance issues we were fighting, we were pretty much limited. We couldn’t really adjust on it without hurting downforce of the car overall, so we were kind of boxed in. Then we just kind of got collected in that accident back there. I checked up in time, but I got absolutely ran over from there. Caught the right front and broke the upper control arm for the second week in a row.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 26th: “Such a bummer way to end an otherwise pretty solid night out at Bristol. Our No. 42 team was able to make some pretty good changes to our car to help us throughout the race, and that put us in a position for a top-15 finish. Unfortunately, a mechanical issue of some sort took us out early. It’s a shame because we had made some good gains up until that point, but that just how it goes sometimes. Looking forward to heading to Texas next weekend and put this one behind us.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 30th: “You never know what can happen and having that flat, there’s nothing that we can do about it.  You’re lucky you have that cushion going into this race.  The most unfortunate part is our car was super fast, too.  That was the terrible thing about it.  The worst part about it now, looking back.  The car was really good and just had no indication.  It seemed like a lot of guys had right-front problems tonight, but I’m proud of everybody for getting it fixed up and just out there to finish the race.  There really wasn’t much we could do, just log laps and let everything play itself out.  That’s why you try to have two good races beforehand because you never know when you’re gonna need some points.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 31st: “I heard Daniel (Suarez) just wrecked (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) and caused a big one. Part of it. Wish we would have been in a little better spot. Just broke the suspension on the left front. We had gotten stage points and had a pretty good race car. Feeling pretty good about it. We just needed to miss that one. That was the best race car we brought. We put ourselves in a bind the first two races and brought something to race with today. We’ll just try to win a race before the year’s over.”

Alex Bowman — Finished 32nd: “Cars stopping in a hurry and no way for me to get stopped. We lost power steering and tried to work our way through it. We stayed out to get stage points, which thankfully we had a great race car and we were able to get stage points even without power steering and lock ourselves in. But the flip side of that was restarting in the back there and just getting collected. It’s a bummer, but at least we’re onto the next round and we can focus on Texas next weekend.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 34th: “It just goes with our year. I don’t even know what to say. I’m flabbergasted. I just feel so bad for my guys. They don’t deserve to be in this spot. They work too hard. We are too good of a group to be this low, down on the bottom, fighting for our lives just to make it through. Two engine failures in three weeks, that will do it to you. I really feel bad for all of Rowdy Nation, everybody at M&M’s, Interstate Batteries, Rowdy Energy, all of the partners that get us going every week. This is not our normal.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 36th: “It blew the seal out and pushed all the (power steering) fluid out on the right-front tire. Just unbelievable. What did (Kevin) Harvick say? Crappy parts. … You literally can’t drive the car here without power steering. You lose it, you’re done. It’s been a horrible string of luck for us, and we had another strong car tonight. We were working our way forward, every run going forward. Ready for this year to be over and start over.”

Bristol Cup cutoff race results, driver points

Bristol Cup results points
Logan Riely/Getty Images
0 Comments

Bristol points, results: The first round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs ended with a third consecutive victory by a non-playoff driver as Chris Buescher ended a 222-race winless streak Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

It was the first points victory as a team owner for Brad Keselowski, who joined Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing this season. The victory by the No. 17 Ford was the first for the team since July 1, 2017 at Daytona International Speedway with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Buescher, who won for the first time since his Aug. 1, 2016 victory at Pocono Raceway, became the 19th winner in the Cup Series this year, tying a modern-era record set in 2001. The No. 17 Ford driver led a race-high 169 of 500 laps (including the final 61) and won by 0.458 seconds over Chase Elliott.

RESULTS: Click here for where everyone finished l Click here for the race report

William Byron finished third, followed by Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson.

It’s the first time in NASCAR’s playoff era (which began in 2004) that there have been three consecutive victories by non-playoff drivers.

POINTS

Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick were eliminated from the playoffs after the first round as the field was narrowed from 16 to 12 drivers.

It’s the first time that Busch and Harvick have been ousted in the first round of the elimination playoff format that started in 2014.

Regular season champion Chase Elliott will enter the second round opener at Texas Motor Speedway with the points lead in the reseeded standings, ahead of Joey Logano, Ross Chastain, Kyle Larson, William Byron, Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell, Ryan Blaney, Chase Briscoe, Alex Bowman, Daniel Suarez and Austin Cindric.

RESEEDED POINTS FOR ROUND 2: Click here for reseeded driver points l Click here for reseeded team owner points

ROUND 1 POINTS: Click here for driver points l Click here for team owner points

Chase Elliott would like a more compact Cup schedule and more night races

Chase Elliott NASCAR schedule
Logan Riely/Getty Images
0 Comments

BRISTOL, Tennessee – Chase Elliott has said the fall is his favorite time of the year for watching sports, but he doesn’t believe the NASCAR schedule fits into that lineup.

The 2020 Cup Series champion has lobbied for an earlier end to the Cup season, and he made the case again this past week by noting “Less = more” in retweeting NACSAR’s 2023 schedule release.

Asked to elaborate by NBC Sports during his Friday media availability at Bristol Motor Speedway, the four-time most popular driver said, “36 (races) … 45 … 50 … I don’t think it matters how many races we have, but I don’t see any reason in competing against NFL football when that starts. In my opinion, that’s not a battle we’re ever going to win. I think we should be smart about that.”

ELIMINATION AT BRISTOL: Scenarios for the playoff drivers at risk

SATURDAY NIGHT’S RACE: Details, schedules for watching

Since downsizing from 48 races in 1972, NASCAR annually has raced well into the fall with a Cup schedule that has been at 36 races since 2001.

Elliott believes “a more compact schedule” over a shorter timeframe than nine months (even with more races) would draw larger audiences.

“I don’t make the rules and nobody asks my opinion that does,” he said. “And that’s completely fine, I’m not asking for that job. I don’t want that job. But I’m a firm believer that less is more, in the sense of the timing of a schedule and when we could end our season to make the most for TV ratings and things of that nature. I think we could do better, personally.”

Elliott also tweeted “I like night races too.” in a nod to there being only three points races under the lights (Bristol on the April 9 Easter Sunday and Sept. 16; the Coca-Cola 600 also starts in daytime and ends at night). Richmond Raceway, which regularly had two annual Saturday night races for nearly three decades, will have two Sunday afternoon Cup races for the second consecutive season.

Elliott said he hadn’t put much thought into how many night races or which tracks should get them, but he believes fans deserve a break with some cooler conditions.

“There are a lot of Sunday afternoons that we spend in some really hot environments, which is fine,” Elliott said. “I’m good with that. But if I was a fan sitting in the bleachers, I wouldn’t be. For three and a half hours in August, I would much rather do it at night and enjoy a night race. The environment is really neat.”

Elliott is a big fan of the atmosphere for Saturday night’s race at Bristol, which he said was “larger than life” when he attended as a kid and “made me want to be a race car driver. The environment is unmatched and this event is special. I don’t see another date or track on our schedule that can rival what this environment is on Saturday night in August or September.

“This is the best race of the year here under the lights,” he said. “I also understand that it’s cool because we don’t do it much. But I just think you see a lot of short tracks in places that run Saturday night shows, and I think during the summer months, it’s something we should consider doing more of. That’s my opinion, but again, I don’t get asked. I don’t want to get asked, and I don’t want that role. Just my humble opinion.”

Bristol Xfinity race results, driver points

1 Comment

Xfinity points, results: Noah Gragson won Friday’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway, his third consecutive victory on the circuit.

The JR Motorsports driver led 25 of 300 laps in his No. 9 Chevrolet for the 11th victory of his Xfinity Series career, winning by 0.145 seconds over Brandon Jones (who will be replacing Gragson in the No. 9 next season as Gragson moves into the Cup Series).

It’s the career-high sixth victory this year for the 24-year-old Gragson, who also set a JR Motorsports mark for most wins by a driver in a season.

Austin Hill finished third, followed by Sam Mayer and Riley Herbst to round out the top five for the Xfinity regular-season finale, which set the field for the 12-driver playoff.

RESULTS: Click here for where everyone finished l Click here for the race report

Daniel Hemric and Ryan Sieg clinched the final two spots in the playoffs. Sieg took the last by passing Landon Cassill (whose car suffered a mechanical failure) in the points standings.

Sheldon Creed led 34 laps in his bid to make the playoffs but finished seventh after being slammed into the wall from contact with Ty Gibbs, who had been bumped up the track by Ty Gibbs.

Justin Allgaier, Gragson’s JR Motorsports teammate, led a race-high 148 of 300 laps but finished ninth because of a late speeding penalty.

POINTS

AJ Allmendinger, who finished sixth, won the 2022 regular-season championship with a sixth-place finish. The rest of the top five in points were: Justin Allgaier, Noah Gragson, Ty Gibbs and Josh Berry.

By virtue of playoff points from his victories and stage wins, Gragson will enter the playoffs as the No. 1 seed ahead of Gibbs, Allgaier, Allmendinger and Berry.

CURRENT POINTS AFTER BRISTOL: Click here for reseeded driver points l Click here for reseeded team owner points

REGULAR SEASON AFTER BRISTOL: Click here for final driver points l Click here for final team owner points